Nintendo’s DRM Policy is Bad and Nintendo Should Feel Bad


Kotaku just ran a story about a serious Nintendo fan named Jon who bought a lot of digital games last generation: over $400 dollars’ worth – believe me, he provided a Club Nintendo library shot to prove it. Jon wound up buying a Wii U, creating a Nintendo Network ID, and then transferring his Wii purchases to his new system…except there was a problem. His Wii U didn’t work, so he had to buy a new one. Thinking that his Nintendo Network ID would function like, I dunno, the IDs for pretty much every other digital content management account system in existence, Jon took his Wii U back to the store to exchange it for a new one.

But as it turns out, Nintendo Network IDs are different from other digital accounts in one key way: they’re still tied to one piece of hardware, and only Nintendo has the ability to remove or transfer them. Compare that to Xbox 360, Apple, and Steam, where you can register your ID on a number of different devices and gain access to the same content, and you can imagine why he’d be confused. Jon lost access to his content completely – Nintendo won’t transfer digital content unless you send in both the original system and the new system to their repair department. Instead, they decided to give him $200 in eShop credit (most of the games he’d bought last gen aren’t available on the eShop), and sent him on his unmerry way.

What’s the reason for all the trouble Nintendo owners have to go through? It’s because Nintendo’s afraid you’ll find a way to re-sell your downloadable games.

This is a terrible digital rights management policy. Yeah, I said it: terrible. It’s terrible because it sacrifices the security of customers’ purchases and prioritizes Nintendo’s own security (which to be frank, probably wasn’t in jeopardy in the first place) – a direct violation of the “customer first” principle that made Nintendo a pleasant company to do business with in the first place.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I would buy every Wii U game I intend to own digitally if Nintendo guaranteed that that ownership is perpetual and extends beyond the hardware I originally downloaded it to. No complicated customer service rituals, no need to hang on to my old system until I get my new one, no having to ship the digital content I already bought on the system that I also bought halfway across the country and back just so I can download it again on something else that I bought.

vc-nintendoWhy am I so passionate about the idea of going digital? Because I know that at some point, future hardware’s going to stop supporting the same discs we have now. And at some point, just like my Wii, my Wii U’s optical disc drive will burn out, or the CPU will fry, and I’ll have to buy another new platform to play my stuff on anyway – and if all my games are physical copies, what then? Digital games don’t have that limitation – in theory, you’ll always be able to download them again. All you’ll need is some form of software emulation, kept up to date with the passing generations, and presto! Permanent game library that transcends the test of time!

Does Nintendo know how much value they’re squandering by not making this a clear and obvious and attainable possibility? If owning games means being able to play them forever and not just for a generation or two or until your old systems die, don’t you think people are going to be less picky and choosy about what they play?

But that’s not the Nintendo way, apparently:

Different companies take different approaches to preventing the resale of downloadable games. Anyone who experiences any issues with a Nintendo system or game should contact Nintendo Customer Service at 800-255-3700 or Once a system has been sold or traded in, and the system is no longer in possession of the original owner, the downloadable content cannot be recovered.

And that’s why “different companies” have become giants in the digital content world, while others have not. Doesn’t Nintendo think they should try crafting their account systems after the successful ones, and not shackling them with crappy hardware-locked DRM schemes that have failed consistently for every company that’s ever attempted them? (And, worse, driven customers away to the competition.)

steamlogoBecause when your policy to prevent people from doing you wrong impacts the convenience and security of honest, paying customers, they’re likely to go somewhere with more convenience and better security. Because, at the end of the day, if you don’t ensure that you’re fully satisfying your customers at a critical level of your business, you’re going to have unsatisfied customers. And, trust me, you lose a lot more money on unsatisfied customers when they decide not to buy from you the next time around than you do on pirates and thieves.

I said earlier that Nintendo’s biggest strength lines in forging strong relationships with its customers through its Nintendo-exclusive games. Building those strong relationships with customers builds trust between you and them and keeps them coming back for more. They trust you to make the games they want; you trust them to buy them when you make them.

But Nintendo’s DRM policy isn’t built on trust – it’s built on paranoia and uncertainty, on an unwillingness to place faith in the customer to manage his or her own content. And, as you might expect, a lack of trust from above is bound to translate to a lack of trust from below.

rayman-legends-full-experienceIn hindsight, it’s clear that if there’s anything that’s characterized the loss of momentum following the Wii U launch, it’s a lack of trust. A lack of trust in Nintendo’s lineup beyond the launch window due to Nintendo never mentioning any of it until just a couple weeks ago, when they seemed to suddenly wake up and realize that no one can anticipate games that they don’t know exist. A lack of trust on the part of fans in Nintendo’s ability to attract third-party titles, which translates to a lack of faith on the part of the third parties themselves… and lost exclusives. And, as we’ve seen from the basically non-existent momentum at present, that lack of trust has expressed itself quite plainly in a lack of Wii U purchases.

When Nintendo’s trying to sell systems, they don’t have the luxury of making choices that could damage the relationship between them and their potential customers. If anything, Nintendo needs to be bending over backwards to ensure that Wii U doesn’t get a bad reputation as “the system with nothing to play,” “the system no third party will develop for,” or – worst of all – “the system that won’t let you keep the games you already bought.”

  • Erimgard

    First of all, “Why not Zoidberg?”
    And secondly…wow. Dude got screwed. There’s no reason at all for NNID’s to be tied to hardware. ridiculous.

  • Alex Plant

    You know what good companies do? They look out for their customers instead of themselves. That’s why their customers stand by them – because they stand by their customers. The only thing this policy can possibly accomplish is to push people away.

    • the_mags

      This is why I am very hesitant about purchasing games digitally on Wii U or 3DS…I feel like purchasing these digital copies yields almost no benefit besides instant gratification. The build quality on hardware has dipped so low you are almost guaranteed to require replacement of your system at some point–Microsoft and Sony have become quite flexible, but Nintendo just doesn’t get it. They will eventually–but will it be too late?

      • Juan Rodriguez

        In my case, I bought several DSiWare games and transfered them over the 3DS. I was slightly pissed that the DSi Brain Age didn’t transfer over (It’s hardware-locked to that DSi, just like the Mario Kart 3DS game is going to be hardware-locked to this 3DS)

        What did piss me off, a lot, was that even when I had both systems right next to each other, Nintendo didn’t bother to transfer my game saves. They keep doing things half-assedly. I love Nintendo, but I’m growing tired of them, and this will probably be the last console I buy from them.

        • Juan Rodriguez

          Y’know, unless Nintendo fixes their system. I hate DRM, and I really hate Nintendo’s DRM. I would have easily dropped a lot more money on their virtual warez if their DRM wasn’t so damned crappy.

          • Alex Plant

            The worst part, for both me and Nintendo? I would have bought MORE GAMES in general (not just more digital games) because of the Deluxe Digital Promotion.

        • Alex Plant

          Wow… That’s awful. Even the SSBB “unmovable” save file went over to my Wii U with the system transfer. And yet on systems with more advanced account systems, there’s still perma-locking? Awful.

        • Ghoti

          I really didn’t see why they didn’t transfer the save data from DSi to 3DS, but the only game I cared about there was Mario vs. Donkey Kong, where I had about 130 custom levels, and got a gold star on every normal level. I actually took pictures of all my custom levels, and somehow managed to gold star every level again before OoT3D came out, but I was still pretty pissed.

          On the Wii to Wii U transfer, I couldn’t believe that my games were locked in some stupid “Wii Menu” app. I only had one Classic Controller, but that wasn’t a problem because I had about 7 GCN controllers. Now, I am forced to use CC, and they don’t even sell the original kind anymore (I personally don’t like the Pro at all.)

          And now they say I have to pay EXTRA money to transfer these games to my Wii U menu? I had about $140 in games, and even at the prices they gave, that’s going to add up (I estimated about $25-$30.) I cannot believe this.

          Also, why don’t I have the same games on my 3DS as well? 8/10 of the Abassador NES games I already owned on my Wii, and, while a refund would be nice, I really don’t care. As long as I get all my other VC titles on the 3DS. Maybe not hypothetical GCN VC titles, but the 3DS could run them.

          • Jacob White

            Solution: KEEP YOUR WII AND DSI

  • WindMageMaster

    When I get a Wii U, I’m not going to be looking forward to playing content I downloaded last gen. I’m going to be looking forward to many other things… so this doesn’t really affect me, although it wouldn’t be bad to have it easier to transfer.

  • ………..

    Well, if you think about it, by doing this, owners can’t get hacked into their accounts by an outside force unless they overrun all of Nintendo. It’s easy to guess one’s password, or change it completely on Xbox and PS3, while on the WiiU its safe unless you invite the hacker into your own home.

    • Alex Plant

      No, your account information can still be compromised in the same ways with the Nintendo Network ID.

  • Cody Thornton

    They have also said customers don’t want online play this is just another example of how out of touch they really are

  • Aaron Laye

    It’s not much of an issue to me considering I prefer physical copies of my games anyways. I’ve never had a Nintendo console break on me other than my NES (a simple 10$ Pin-Connector replacement)and my Wii (which was my own fault for homebrewing to play Mother.) I do agree, however, that Nintendo is far too defensive about these things.

    They wouldn’t even transfer my saves from my wii to my wii-u because they think I pirated everything. That’s just rediculous considering the massive amounts of club nintendo points I have. No, Nintendo. I’m not a pirate. I’m just a gamer who wants to play a franchise you refuse to port to the states. Furthermore, they told me even if I DID try that, data that uses online e.g. Monster Hunter Tri aren’t able to be copied.

    I love their systems and their games, I just wish they’d stop worrying about piracy. It just makes people want to pirate even more.

  • Richard Bailey

    You know what smart people do? They call the manufacturing company and ask them about the problem because you think that would be the smartest thing to do; go straight to the source and ask them. While I agree it sucks and that Nintendo should fix it, all he really had to do was call Nintendo and have them straighten it out first. Both parties need to learn from their mistakes.

    • Alex Plant

      For any other product in today’s day and age that offers an account system, you have a guarantee that your account will work on any device. It’s not really his fault for assuming that Nintendo would do the same – if anything, that just goes to show that it’s Nintendo’s fault for not offering security to their customers.

      • Richard Bailey

        But in reality, you shouldn’t ASSUME anything. If something goes wrong with the system, always call the manufacturer first.

      • Jacob White

        Assuming can be dangerous, as you can easily see in this case. That is why you should always read the legal documents given to you; especially when there is a lot of money on the line. So really, it is his fault for assuming. Sure, Nintendo is being paranoid about hackers and such, but because they are trying to give their users extra security (although they went too far). I don’t see how their actions are not offering security, as that was the whole point of this DRM.

  • Samuel Cooke

    having read this twice now (on different websites) i would like to point out that it says in the Wii U setup that if you get a problem with oyur console then to contact them first and not, as this guy did, do a return.

    • Alex Plant

      So? If consumers don’t find that to be the method that occurs naturally to them for dealing with these kinds of problems, shouldn’t Nintendo be working to meet consumers’ needs and wants, and work on something that’s friendlier to their mindset?

      • Jacob White

        That’s their fault that they didn’t follow the very clear and direct instructions given to them. They should think before doing something important like trading in expensive piece(s) of merchandise.

    • Juan Rodriguez

      Here’s a gigantic issue with that: Not every country is USA. While I bet that Nintendo does have “excellent” customer service in USA, Nintendo doesn’t know where “Mexico” is or that it even exists. If I had an issue with a Mexican-bought Wii U, I would have to exchange it in the exact process described by “Jon” / Kotaku. It sucks for Mexicans, which is why I tend to stick with hard copies of my games instead of going digital.

      • Greg

        Not only Mexico, there are other forgotten countries below Mexico you know? To Nintendo America is only USA, nothing more. If you access the eShop in some of these forgotten countries there will be NOTHING in the shop, yes, nothing for us, the eShop is totally empty here. Customer service? the only customer service they provide is for USA.

  • Joe Onley Jr

    I lost my ambassador on my 3ds because i let my friend borrow it for a weekend and it turns up traded in meaning Nintendo wont do anything because the store was erased. So now I am out of games I should still have. It should be as simple as seeing that all those games are on my club nintendo account and fixing it but nope, screwed. Sure its not as bad as losing $400 but it shows how messed up it is


    there is a patch for all this need time to fix this 1 in spring and 1 in summer it will get better

  • Light

    Same thing happened to me. I lost all my data and all I got back were my virtual console game. Which i play on my original wii

  • Jacob White

    I do not intend to be mean, as I do feel bad for this guy, Jon, but he really should have paid more attention before acting. He should have read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy and such legal documents and paying attention to the updates they would have made on them; especially when he transferred from the Wii to the Wii U. Furthermore, he should have made sure that the Wii U worked properly before risking the transfer of digital information to it; especially when there is $400 of games at risk. This is one reason why people should never skip over those kinds of documents. It is his own problem if he did not take all precautionary actions, not Nintendo’s fault.

    • Alex Plant

      i think the issue is that the transfer process didn’t work, which he couldn’t possibly have foreseen until he actually did it.